JOHANNESBURG - Gupta-linked Trillian Capital on Tuesday suffered a major blow when the North Gauteng High Court ordered it to pay Eskom R600million it illegally received from the struggling power utility.
The judgment marked the first case in which a state capture-linked company was ordered to return ill-gotten money to a state-owned entity.
In a scathing judgment, the full bench of the court said if no action was taken against Trillian, it would create the impression that crime paid.
“The only and effective remedy, that is just an equitable, in the circumstances of this matter is that the substantial resources paid to Trillian in the absence of either factual or legal basis, must be returned to Eskom for the utilisation of such resources to all the inhabitants of this country,” read the judgment by Judges Selby Baqwa, Moara Tsoka and Dawie Fourie.
“This will not only be just and equitable, but will be to strengthen the rule of law, the very foundation of any constitutional state such as ours.”
Last year, Eskom sued both Trillian and McKinsey for the repayment of almost R1.6billion alleged to have been unlawfully paid to the firms.
McKinsey has since paid back R1bn it had received from Eskom.
Wayne Duvenage, chief executive of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, said the judgment was important in ushering-in an era of accountability in cash-strapped state-owned firms.
“The money that went to Trillian was pure theft, and it is a good day for anti-corruption crusaders when such money is ordered to be paid back. Eskom’s new management did a good job of undoing the bad work done by the previous corrupt management,” Duvenage said.
Trillian’s officials are alleged to have known of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene's firing by ex-president Jacob Zuma in 2015, two months before it became public.
The controversial company was also paid R93m by Transnet for being a lead arranger of a R12bn club loan.
However, MNS Attorneys, which was asked to probe allegations of fraud and irregularities by Transnet’s former board, testified at the Zondo Commission that Trillian had no role to play in securing the deal.
In 2017, Trillian moved to rid itself of its Gupta links when Salim Essa, a known Gupta associate, sold his 60percent stake in the group to chief executive Eric Wood, making him an 85percent shareholder with the rest held by staff.
Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis said the court ruling was welcome news, but that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) now needed to act against Trillian and McKinsey.
“Trillian is just a company that was established to take advantage of the looting opportunities presented by state capture. We now expect the NPA to take the matter forward and prosecute both companies,” Lewis said.